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Cotter defends Blake call-up

Scotland coach Vern Cotter has defended his decision to call up New Zealand-born flanker Hugh Blake for his RBS 6 Nations squad.

The Edinburgh loose forward is one of four uncapped players from the capital club to be named in Cotter's 32-man squad ahead of next month's championship opener in Paris.

But the highly-rated 22-year-old only moved to Scotland last month on a six-month deal and has yet to even appear for the Gunners.

He could join Blair Cowan, another Kiwi now playing for the Scots, and Zimbabwe-born David Denton in a back-row combination forged in the southern hemisphere.

But Cotter insists the former All Black youngster - who qualifies for his side thanks to his Scottish grandparents - will wear the Dark Blue jersey with pride.

Cotter - himself a New Zealander - said: "We have to be open-minded about this. Hugh's got Scottish ancestry and he is very proud of it.

"He's a brave man, he could have stayed in New Zealand in a secure and comfortable environment. He challenged himself to come over here and that type of thing I respect.

"Hugh is a very good player and highly rated in New Zealand. He's been involved in Super Rugby and played in the end-of-season play-offs. He's also played with New Zealand's Under-20s at the junior World Cup.

"He's a very good openside flanker and offers us genuine speed to the breakdown. He's a very good offloader and can give us continuity to our game.

"He's a very skilful player and generally gets two to three turnovers a game. If we can change the course of a match positively by winning the ball and making destructive tackles then that is great.

"Hugh offers us a profile that we don't have. He brings that specialist seven role over from New Zealand and an ability to change games. He's played against Richie McCaw and the best players in the world - and he's available for Scotland."

Blake is joined in the squad by three Murrayfield team-mates - scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and forwards Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson.

But he is included at the expense of former skipper Kelly Brown and John Barclay, who has been impressing for Welsh side Scarlets.

Experienced Sale scrum-half Chris Cusiter, Glasgow lock Tim Swinson, Castres number eight Johnnie Beattie and hookers Pat MacArthur and Scott Lawson of Glasgow and Newcastle Falcons are also dropped despite being involved last year.

And Cotter admits the high-intensity gameplan he has drawn up for this year's Six Nations may be too demanding for the old stagers.

"When we look at the profile and the game we want to play, some of these youngsters are offering us more," said Cotter, who has won five of his first seven Tests since taking over last summer.

"It's certainly not finished for any of those players but we are now looking at some young players who offer us more with the way we want to play.

"I've spoken to Kelly and explained my thinking. Things change and things evolve - but Kelly is a great supporter of Scottish rugby and a great man. He understands."

Injuries have also played a part in the former Clermont Auvergne coach's selection ahead of the first match against France on February 7.

Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw will continue to skipper the side while Grant Gilchrist continues his recovery from the arm injury which cost him the chance to make his debut as captain during the November clashes with Argentina, South Africa and Tonga.

Glasgow number eight Adam Ashe will miss the first two matches but could return for the visit of Italy on February 28.

Edinburgh centre Matt Scott is included for the first time under Cotter, however, after an injury-plagued six months, while Warriors lock Rob Harley was also a surprise inclusion for the Paris trip after making a quicker-than-expected recovery from knee and ankle problems.

But Cotter - who also confirmed he could yet add to his squad before they meet up again next week for a three-day training camp - admits his team will have to upset expectations if they are to challenge during this year's competition.

He said: "The nucleus of the team that played in the autumn is still there, while players who have been playing well have joined them.

"But we know that this is a competition in which we are not particularly well favoured. But we would like to challenge the people who think like that and put in some good performances."


From Belfast Telegraph